5 Secrets of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Last September, I left my job as a full-time newspaper reporter and photographer to be a stay-at-home dad for my daughter, Olivia. Here’s what I’ve learned in the first nine months.

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Tips for stay-at-home dads (SAHD)Photo: ShutterStock

What’s it *really* like to be a stay-at-home dad?

I know what you’re thinking: Stay-at-home dads have it made. Just imagine what it would be like to escape the rat race of the 9-to-5 work week. No more commutes on crowded highways. No more ungrateful bosses telling you what to do. Sounds like the life, right?

Except that now you’re on the clock 24/7, and your boss is a 2-year-old toddler who just threw her lunch against the wall.

Last September, I left my job as a full-time newspaper reporter and photographer to stay at home with my daughter, Olivia. She was about 17 months old at the time and my wife was heading back to work after her maternity leave. Instead of forking over hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars each month for childcare, we made the decision for me to stay home with her and work as a freelancer—a decision that more and more Canadian families are making, as a matter of fact. According to Statistics Canada, in 1976, the stay-at-home dad existed in only one in 70 Canadian families. By 2015, the stay-at-home dad (or SAHD, as we’re commonly referred to these days) could be found in 1 out of every 10 families.

Although it’s an increasingly common option, becoming a stay-at-home dad does present some unique challenges. To help you prepare, I’m sharing a few of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past nine months.

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Being a stay-at-home dad (SAHD)Photo: ShutterStock

1. Practice patience.

Whether they’re insisting they put on their own shoes (on the wrong feet, no less) or make you stop to examine every little thing on the ground on your walk through the park, little ones are bound to test your patience. Life moves more slowly for toddlers and young children, and you’ll have to adapt to this new, more leisurely pace.

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Dad and son in a carPhoto: ShutterStock

2. Be prepared to adjust your taste in music (especially in the car).

Chances are pretty good your child isn’t going to be interested in the latest chart-topping singles on the radio. I recommend having either a CD of kid’s songs in your car or downloaded onto your portable music device at all times. If not, be prepared to break out into song yourself. (“If You’re Happy and You Know It” is a popular one in our car).

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Dads being socialPhoto: ShutterStock

3. Maintain contact with other adults.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice on this list. I went from a job as a reporter where I was asking authority figures in-depth questions every single day, to a role as an SAHD where I was asking my daughter where she hid her socks. Putting it simply, watching small kids every day can leave you starved for mental stimulation.

Justin Wright, a fellow SAHD to two boys (aged two and four), agrees. “I wish someone had told me how important it is to be socially active early on,” he told me.

Whether that means finding a group of SAHDs to meet with on a regular basis, attending drop-in activities in your community, or just making a point of seeing your friends whenever you can, the company of your contemporaries goes a long way.

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Dad doing houseworkPhoto: ShutterStock

4. Learn to love the mop (and the vacuum, and the washing machine, and...)

Even if you’ve always contributed to household chores before becoming an SAHD, that responsibility increases when you decide to stay home full time. Nap time for baby or toddler becomes laundry time for you, or time to plan and prep dinner for that evening, or a chance to mop the floor. Use the little one’s down time to your advantage.

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Embracing fatherhood Photo: Shutterstock

5. Embrace the decision to become an SAHD.

I was hesitant to put my career as a reporter on hold to make the move to full-time fatherhood, and I spent weeks weighing the pros and cons before finally taking the plunge. I was particularly worried about getting out of the news industry since it’s notoriously hard to find good jobs in the field. But after the first few days, I knew I had made the right choice.

SAHD Justin Wright had a similar experience when his first son was born almost four years ago. He was just starting a career with a major airline at Pearson International Airport in Toronto but put that on hold—perhaps indefinitely. “I had really thought that I would begrudge the fact I was essentially giving up on that career,” he said. “But I truly enjoy my role in our family, and I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to spend this time with our kids and help them learn and grow.”